Sparks in the Gaps: Developing Creative Social Media Solutions Through Listening

I sat in a client meeting this week feeling overwhelmed. And not because it was a difficult meeting or our client was unhappy. Instead, I listened to this woman, who is the director of a hospital birthing center, and realized the magnitude of the issues she deals with on a daily basis.

It had been a particularly hard week, especially dealing with expectant mothers and their partners who struggle with the drug addictions that plague rural areas. We had come to talk to her about her blogging experience and monthly e-newsletter, armed with ideas on how to generate content and stay on top of her social media plan. Once we heard her stories of the week’s events, I felt almost ashamed of the mundane nature of our plans for her. Why was I bothering her when she clearly had more important things to do?

Until I realized that social media was not part of the problem, but part of the solution. Difficult circumstances call for more connectedness, more reaching-out, more information, not less. A mother desperately trying to help a pregnant teen needs a community, advice, and support. A family member or friend trying to reach a drug-dependent mother needs the same. As do mothers with children of special needs, adoptive parents, women recovering from C-sections; the list of individual issues that our birthing center director dealt with in one week showed the incredibly diverse nature of human need.

So, how can hospitals and clinics use social media to address complex problems? The answer lies in one of Hive’s core values: listen to understand. And then (and I’m not just saying this because it’s my job) be creative.

Knowing one’s audience can seem simple, especially when you’ve been dealing with patients for decades. But listening carefully can reveal nuances that will help you tailor your social media plan to reach the right people. I was surprised, diving deeper into conversation with our client, how we had neglected some patient needs simply because their experience was complicated, or because their needs were not like our own.

Sometimes the patient is not the one ultimately making his or her health decisions—how do you reach the person that is? Sometimes the patient is, because of difficult circumstances, completely uninformed and or even hostile. How to reach him or her? Sometimes, the problem is simply that there is new information to present. How to reach a whole segment of patients for whom this news is pertinent?

Creativity comes in once you’ve listened carefully in order to find the gaps in your message, information, or reach. The beauty of social media is that there are more and more ways to implement it, and knowing your audience intimately can only help you focus your efforts more efficiently. Identifying a group’s needs as clearly as possible makes finding and setting up a conversation easier.

There are many great examples of creative social media solutions to healthcare problems: Children’s hospitals have their own iPhone apps to help parents searching for accurate, up-to-date information; blood drives are announced to able donors via Twitter; expectant mothers are text-messaged reminders about pre-natal care; very specific groups (like motocross racers wanting to prevent injuries!) can watch videos on a hospital’s Facebook page.

I have to admit that instead of being overwhelmed by the task of helping our birthing center director reach her audience in all its diversity, I now feel inspired. Instead of wondering what I can possibly contribute, I spend time thinking of all the people we can reach, and what our good information and support will mean to them.

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